Category Archives: African cinema

Nowhere to Run Wins Best Documentary Short at The African Film Festival (TAFF) Dallas and screens 6 more times this week in Abuja, DC, and Linden, NJ

Nowhere to Run, the documentary shot, directed, and edited by my brother Dan McCain at Core Productions, Lagos, narrated by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and featuring Nigeria’s leading environmentalist Nnimo Bassey of Mother Earth Foundation,  (with a script written by Louis Rheeder and myself) just won the award for best short documentary at The African Film Festival (TAFF), Dallas. It had been nominated for three awards, Best Short Documentary, Best Director, and Best Cinematography. So I got up this morning and searched twitter for it. Amara Nwankpa, representing the ‘Yar Adua Centre (which produced the film) at the festival, tweeted the news.

It has been gratifying to see the film get so much attention. Back in April, it won the Grand Jury prize at the Green Me film festival in Lagos, and it has had a pretty steady stream of screenings in Nigeria and an increasing number abroad since it premiered in November 2015. There are five more screenings this week in Abuja; Washington, DC; and Linden, NJ. See this link or the bottom of this post for more details.


In the past month I have also been a part of two other screenings in Nigeria, one at Kwara State University, Malete, as part of the 2016 convocation events and the other at the American Corner in Jos.


Nnimmo Bassey on screen, at the Kwara State University, Malete, screening of Nowhere to Run, 3 June 2016.

At the Kwara State University, Malete, screening on 3 June, there were about fifty students and faculty represented, including playwright Femi Osofisan, poet Tanure Ojaide, feminist critic Mary Kolawole, and ecocritic Saeedat Aliyu.


Nowhere to Run screening at Kwara State University, Malete, on 3 June 2016.

Professor Osofisan spoke after the screening, pointing to the long history of environmental abuse and activism against it in Nigeria. Osofisan’s contemporary Ken Saro Wiwa was one of Nigeria’s most outspoken activists and critics of the degradation of the Niger Delta and was executed on trumped up charges under the military regime of Sani Abacha. Now his son continues the struggle.


Playwright Femi Osofisan speaks after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Tanure Ojaide, the author of multiple volumes of poetry which speak to the environment, also spoke to the importance of environmental issues in Nigeria.


Poet Tanure Ojaide spoke after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Saeedat Aliyu pointed to the litter on the university campus as a major problem that the university should strive to correct.


Saeedat Aliyu speaks about rampant littering on university campuses after the Kwara State University screening of Nowhere to Run.

Sadly, the university buildings are also contributing to some of the issues spoken about in the documentary. In the film Michael Egbebike points out that erosion is caused by blocking off water ways and as I walked to my office after the screening, I saw how the new walls built all over the KWASU campus were built without proper drainage and were creating small ponds next to buildings.


Drainage issues caused by poorly planned walls at KWASU, 3 June 2016.


Drainage issues caused by poorly planned walls at KWASU, 3 June 2016.


Drainage issues at KWASU, 3 June 2016.

While this is a relatively small problem that affects only one institution, it illustrates how poor planning and bad construction practices all over the country are contributing to much larger environmental issues.

In Jos, on 28 June, there were over 35 people crammed into the screening room at The American Corner.

Screening of #nowheretorun at American Corner Jos #environmentalfilm #climate change #nigerianenvironment

A photo posted by Carmen McCain (@carmenmccain) on

Many of them were young people involved with community organizations, and some of them were people who had simply heard about the film and wanted to come. The audience discussed the complexities of bringing about change to how humans affect the environment. One of the most striking comments came from a man who owns a wood selling business. He spoke movingly about how he was terrified about what was happening to Nigeria and he did not want to contribute to deforestation, and yet his family business and income depends upon wood. The family bought a piece of land in a swamp to try to farm trees for use in their business, but he said the people in the neighbouring village would come at night and cut down their trees.

Voice of America journalist Ilyasu Kasim spoke about a recent story he had done about coal production. Coal production destroys a large number of trees and is dirty energy, and yet some of the poorest people in Nigeria are dependent on this industry and it provides necessary heating for people in Jos, who would otherwise freeze during harmattan. What do these people do in an increasingly devastated economy when people are already having trouble eating? Perhaps fast-growing bamboo could be used in some instances where wood is used. Furthermore, steady electricity would likely help with the problem of heating in Jos and in creating job opportunities. This led to questions of government responsibility  versus the responsibility of individuals. Obviously, the government needs to do more in enforcing laws already on the books and in improving power supply, but if individuals do not get involved then there is no hope at all.

Upcoming screenings in Nigeria this week include two screenings at the One Environment conference in Abuja, which is holding at Thought Pyramid Arts Centre, 18 Libreville Street, Wuse II, Abuja. It will be shown (tomorrow), Tuesday, 5 July, at 3:30-5pm, and on Thursday, 7th July, at 2:30-4:30pm.


This week it will also be screened in the United States in Washington, DC, first on 6 July, Wednesday, at the International Republican Institute, 1225 Eye Street NW, Suite 800, Washington DC, at 2-4pm. To register for the event, click here.

Then a few hours later, on 6 July,  John Hopkins University-SAIS (in partnership with American University) will screen the film at 1619 Masssachusetts Avenue, NW, Rome-806, Washington, DC 20036. 5-7pm. If you want to attend, please RSVP to African Studies, saisafrica (at) or 202-663-5676.

It will also be screened at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, at 3519 International Ct. NW, Washington, DC 20008, on Thursday, 7 July at 6pm. To RSVP please respond at this link.

For those in New Jersey, it will screen at  Rodo African Cuisine, 1600 East Saint Georges Avenue, Linden, New Jersey, Friday, 8 July, 8-10pm. For more information, call 347-200-2509.

Next week, on 11 July, the film will be showing at 12 noon, at the University of Ibadan, Draper Hall, as part of the IFRA-Nigeria Post Cop21 Conference “Ecological Crises in Nigeria.”

Ifra nowhere to run poster

The film will be playing at other film festivals around the world and continuing to screen in both Nigeria and abroad in the next year.

To stay updated on upcoming screenings, check back regularly on my screening schedule post. And to watch the trailer, check it out here:

Nowhere to Run to be screened as part of the convocation events at Kwara State University, Malete

Nowhere to Run poster-logo's added
The Centre for Nollywood and New Media in Africa (CiNNeMA) at Kwara State University, Malete, invites the university community and any interested guests to a special screening of the award-winning documentary film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis to be held Thursday, 12 noon prompt, in the University Auditorium, immediately before the 2pm convocation play: Professor Femi Osofisan’s Aringidin and the Night Watchmen.


The film, shot on Epic, produced by the ‘Yar Adua Centre and Core Productions, Lagos, and directed by Dan McCain, is narrated and presented by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. and features Nnimo Bassey, in addition to many other Nigerian environmental activists. It introduces some of the most pressing environmental concerns facing Nigeria today: from the link between desertification and Boko Haram, to the threat rising oceans pose to Lagos, to the connection between the devastation in the Niger Delta and global climate change.


The film is not yet available on video or public release, so please come and invite a friend, and prepare for a double feature of film and play.


Thus reads my press release to the Kwara State University community. To read the other blog posts I’ve written about this film, its making, and its screening schedule, see the links below:
To see a trailer of the film, see below:

‘Nowhere to Run’ wins Grand Jury Prize at the Green Me Film Festival, Lagos (and draws further attention to the plight of the Ekuri Forest)


Left to right: Louis Rheeder (script), Nnimo Bassey (environmentalist featured in film), Dan McCain (director, cinematographer, editor), the organizers of the event.

So delighted to report that the film Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Climate and Environmental Crisis has won the Grand Jury prize at the “Green Me” environmental film festival in Lagos this past weekend.

Watch the trailer here:


I have written previously about my work with my brother, Dan McCain, on the film.


Dan McCain with the Grand Jury Award at the Green Me film Festival in Lagos, 3 April 2016.

The Yar Adu’a Foundation sponsored the film, which was produced by Lagos-based Core Productions, directed, shot, and partially edited by my brother, and hosted by Ken Saro Wiwa Jr. Dan travelled all over Nigeria exploring environmental issues and asking if there were any links to climate change. The research and some of the early interviews were done by  Chinelo Onwualu, I did a little more research, transcribed hours of interviews, conducted a few more, and cut together the first version of the script. Louis Rheeder finished and rewrote part of the script, sat with the editor, and turned it into  a beautifully organized story, where everything flows together and makes sense. Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., who “hosts” and narrates the documentary ties everything together. Together with Dan’s spectacular cinematography (shot on Epic), it all comes together, boom!

As I have mentioned previously, as we were working on it, “we made a point of making this a ‘Nigerian’ documentary, and the interviews in the documentary are all with people based in Nigeria.” Some of the strongest voices in the film are those of well known environmentalists Ken Saro Wiwa Jr., and Nnimo Bassey, as well as those activists and environmentalists like Ekaette UkobongMichael Uwemedimo, Godknows Boladei IgaliLiza Gadsby and Peter Jenkins and others who work at the grassroots community level to make a difference. Nnimo Bassey has been an amazing advocate for the film, speaking at multiple screenings, including #COP21 in Paris. Ken Saro Wiwa has screened it at University of California, Berkeley, and other locations. Jacqueline Farris, Nnena Ogbonnaya-Orji, Marve Michael, and others at the Yar Adu’a Foundations have been working tirelessly to organize screenings in Nigeria and beyond.

Nimmo speaks #cop21 #Paris #nowheretorun

A photo posted by Core Productions Ltd. (@core_productions_ltd) on


I was in Lagos for the first screening at the Green Me Film Festival Saturday with Dan, Louis, and Sabrina Coleman of Core Productions. We’ve watched it dozens of times on large screens, but it was the first time any of us had seen it in a cinema. We were all blown away. It’s amazing in the cinema, the BOOM! of the cinematography and colour grading, the detail of the sound design. The audience was chattering at the beginning but suddenly everything went quiet. Later they began talking again, but they were exclamations and responses to the film. I’m looking forward to seeing at other film festivals. The organizers encouraged Dan to come back for the awards ceremony the next night. (Sadly, I hadn’t known about this on time and already had plans to travel for a conference that night. I keep missing things!) To everyone’s delight, the film won the Grand Jury Prize.

For more information about the film and the screening schedule, please see my post about the premiere (to which I have attached a calendar of screenings) or the Yar Adu’a Foundation Facebook page.

I hope this win and the attention the film is receiving will also draw more attention to the current crisis surrounding the Ekuri Forest. We had featured the Ekuri community forest in Cross River State in the film as one of the encouraging stories about what a community can do to take initiative for conserving their own environment. In the 1980s, they had refused offers from logging communities and decided to form the Ekuri Initiative to preserve their forest. The forest is one of the few remaining rain forests (crucial as a carbon sink) in Nigeria, or West Africa as a whole.  According to The Daily Post, on 22nd January 2016, a

Public Notice of Revocation signed by the Commissioner for Lands and Urban Development and published in a local newspaper on 22nd January 2016 decree[ed], among other things, that:
“all rights of occupancy existing or deemed to exist on all that piece of land or parcel of land lying and situate along the Super Highway from Esighi, Bakassi Local Government Government Area to Bekwarra Local Government Area of Cross River State covering a distance of 260km approximately and having an offset of 200m on either side of the centre line of the road and further 10km after the span of the Super Highway, excluding Government Reserves and public institutions are hereby revoked for overriding public purpose absolutely”.

The outrageous 10 kilometres on either side of the highway, would decimate the community forest, and, as the Rainforest Rescue petition points out, in seizing this community’s ancestral lands, would render them homeless.

Although, it seems that no Environmental Impact Assessment has been done (required by law for major projects of this sort in Nigeria), in February 2016, bulldozers came to the community. While the Ekuri community protested, they have already begun to knock down trees in neighbouring communities.  The Ekuri Initiative has started a website, and there is a detailed and disturbing background on the threat against the forest accompanying this Rainforest Rescue petition.

Nnimo Bassey’s Mother Earth Foundation released this press release, pointing out that,

Observers think the project may be a cover for land grabbing, illegal logging and poaching and the destruction of habitats in the forests and reserves that are protected by law and preserved by custom. They question why a project of this nature would reportedly enjoy contributions from Nigerian banks without requisite preliminary surveys, plans and approvals.

The affected communities inform that “besides the fact that the proposed route was going to cause untold damage to the globally important park, it also demonstrated that the route had been selected without looking at a contour map, let alone having an engineering survey.”  

Nnimo Bassey protests  ““We find it unacceptable that a project of this magnitude is pursued without regard to the law and in defiance of the rights of communities.”

In the upcoming weeks/months I hope to publish some of the full interviews we had done for the documentary with members of the Ekuri Community. Consider signing the petition, or if you have influence with the government, exercise it to prevent this outrageous land grab. And if you have a chance to see Nowhere to Run, you will be able to see the beauty of this forest and the passion of the community members like Martin Egot and Chief Edwin Ogor for their land, before this threat.

For more on the film, see the Facebook page and the screening schedule.

For more about Core Productions, see their website, their Twitter page, and their Instagram page.

Kannywood Awards 2016


Nazifi Asnanic and Ali Jita on the red carpet at the Kannywood Awards 2016, 12 March 2016.

I had the privilege to attend the 2016 Kannywood Awards held at the NAF International Conference Centre in Abuja  Saturday, 12 March 2016, the third incarnation of the awards organized by Sarari Klassique Merchandise and Halims Entertainment Galleria. (See my post on the 2013 awards.) I was impressed by the space, which was in a well-decorated and sophisticated auditorium. The red carpet TV presence included Rayuwa TV, Noma TV, Unity Entertainment, NTA, VOA, Voice of Nigeria and others.


on the red carpet.

I dislike taking pictures in conference settings under muddy lighting, and the flash on my camera is broken. Therefore, almost all of my photos are pretty bad. I’ve seen some amazing ones on Facebook taken by photographers like Sani Maikatanga. You can see more photographs at Kannywood Scene. I’ll post a few here, mostly for people who asked for copies.


Director of the Kano State Censorship Board, Afakallah at the Kannywood Awards, 12 March 2016. (Quite a change from Rabo…)

The awards were MC-ed by Waziri Zuaibu of NTA, and Aisha Mohammad of the EFCC (!). Memorable moments include a tribute to the late Aisha Dan Kano; a stylishly-dressed Nafisa Abdullahi’s touching speech thanking her mother after she won Best Actress for her role in Baiwar Allah, and Sadik Sani Sadik kissing the ground when he received his award for best actor in Bayan Duhu, a 20+ minute speech (I was recording) by the minister of Information, and a short and sweet speech by Professor Abdalla Uba Adamu, Vice Chancellor of the Open University, following a really fantastic little 3-4 minute documentary on the beginnings of Kannywood.

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 12.23.14 AM

Tribute to the late Aisha Dan Kano.

I was impressed by the efforts to make this a unified Nigerian affair. Indeed the theme was “Patriotism through Entertainment.” In the musical soundtrack, I heard (pre-recorded) music by Ziriums, Sani Danja, and Jeremiah Gyang (a Christian Hausa singer.) There was an opening prayer by a Muslim and Christian, and, in addition to the various ministers and representatives of governors, there were representatives from Nollywood and even of an Ijaw youths association. Emeka Ike, the president of the Actors Guild of Nigeria gave out awards and spoke out saying that the stakeholders meeting recently held in Lagos (which invited no one from Kannywood) had been “hijacked” by outside interests. In one of the musical performances, Sarkin Waka sang “Mu Zauna lafiya, we are one,” and was joined on stage by many of the stars.

There were also performances by  Ziriums, Abbas Sadiq, and Nura Bond.


Ziriums performs at the 2016 Kannywood Awards, 12 March 2016 (c) Carmen McCain


Ziriums performs at the Kannywood Awards, 12 March 2016. (c) Carmen McCain


Abbas Sadiq performs at the 2016 Kannywood Awards. (c) Carmen McCain

Three special awards were given at the beginning of the ceremony: The special Kannywood Merit Award, went to His royal Highness Malam Awwal Ibrahim, the Emir of Suleja; a Posthumous Life Achievement Award went to the late Tijjani Ibraheem; and another Kannywood Special Merit Award went to Malam Sunusi Shehu Daneji, a scriptwriter and magazine publisher who coined the term “Kannywood” in 1998.

Although certain moments like the (actually quite informative) speech by the Minister of Information dragged on, the audience kept themselves amused with photo taking,selfies, and wandering around chatting.


photo-taking (c) Carmen McCain


Abbas Sadiq working the aisles. (c) Carmen McCain



Filmmaker, author and publisher Ado Ahmad Gidan Dabino (c) Carmen McCain


Producer and scriptwriter Nasir Gwangwazo at the end of the night (c) Carmen McCain

The winners of the awards (alongside the other nominees) are as follows:

Best Film

Hindu, produced by Garba Saleh – WON

Gwaska, produced by Falalu Dorayi

Baiwar Allah, produced by Naziru Dan Hajiya


Best Cultural Film

Na Hauwa, produced by Kabir Ali Mpeg – WON

Hindu, produced by Garba Saleh

Malam Zalimu, produced by Abba El Mustapha


Na Hauwa, produced by Kabir Ali Mpeg wins Best Cultural Film. (c) Carmen McCain


Kabir Ali Mpeg holds the award for the Best Cultural Film that he produced. (c) Carmen McCain

Best Director

Ali Gumzak, for Baiwar Allah – WON

Adam Zango, for Gwaska

Ali Nuhu for Da’iman


Best Script

Yakubu M. Kumo, for Bayan Duhu – WON

Yakubu M. Kumo, for Baiwar Allah

Shafiu Dauda Giwa, for Ban Gantaba


Best Actress

Nafisa Abdullahi, for Baiwar Allah -WON

Jamila Nagudu, for Na Hauwa

Rahama Sadau, for Halacci


The Minister of Information presents the Best Actress Award to a teary Nafisa Abdullahi, 12 March 2016.

Best Actor

Sadik Sani Sadik, for Bayan Duhu -WON

Adam A. Zango, for Gwaska

Ali Nuhu, for Nasibi


Best Supporting Actress

Fati Shu’uma, for Basma -WON

Ladidi Fagge, for Da’iman

Fati Washa, for Hindu


Best Supporting Actor

Lawan Ahmad, for Da’iman – WON

Sadik Ahmad, for Nasibi

Ali Nuhu, for Rumfar Shehu


Lawan Ahmad (middle) with his award for best supporting actor in the film Da’iman (c) Carmen McCain


Best Comedian

Sule Yahaya Bosho, for Rumfar Shehu – WON

Sule Yahaya Bosho, for Gidan Farko

Rabilu Musa (RIP), for Dangas


Best Villain

Haruna Talle Mai Fata, for Farmaki -WON

Adam A. Zango, for Hindu

Tanimu Akawu, for Kasata


Best Child Actor

Maryam Baba Hasin, for Basma  – WON

Ahmad Ali Nuhu, for Uba da Da

Shema’u Salisu, for Anisa


At only five years of age Maryam Baba Hasin wins best Child Actor Award for her role in Basma.



Mr. D’mej, for Hindu – WON

Mr. D’mej and Ismail M. Ismail, for Gwaska

Murtala Balala, for Baiwar Allah


Best Editor

Ali Artwork, for Gwaska – WON

(no name), for Mulamat

Husseini Ibrahim, for Baiwar Allah


Ali Artwork poses with his award for best editor and me.


Best Visual Effects

Muhammad Ali, for Hindu – WON

Musa Zee Moses and Muhammad Ali, for Anisa

Ali Musa Dan Jallo, for Bori

Best Sound

Suraj A. Ibrahim and Mustapha Auwal, for Gwaska -WON

Fahad Abubakar, for Fansa

Bello Minna and Mukhtar Dauda, for Hindu

Best Music

Umar M. Sharif, for Uba da Da – WON

Umar M. Sharif and Isa Gombe, for Gwaska

Nura M. Inuwa, for Hindu


Best Set Design

Tahir I. Tahir, for Hindu – WON

Muhammad Sani G., for Bakin Mulki

Saif A. Nuhu and Ishaq Ahmad Nuhu, for Halacci


Best Costume

Jibrin Cha, Sunusi Shamaki, and One Eye, for Hindu -WON

Umar Big Show, et al, for Gwaska

Sunusi Shamaki, for Bakin Mulki

Best Makeup

(guess which makeup artist won….?😉 )

Alhaji Suji, for Hindu

Alhaji Suji, for Bakin Alkalami

Alhaji Suji, for Nasibi




Jos Theatre Comes to Abuja: Jos Repertory Theatre’s Queen Amina of Zazzau opens in Abuja on 13 November, and I archive my review of Africa Ukoh’s play 54 Silhouettes

Jos-based theatre director Patrick-Jude Odeh just sent me an email asking me to pass around information about the Jos Repertory Theatre’s production of

The Jos Repertory Theatre's performance of Wale Ogunyemi's Queen Amina of Zazzau, in Jos, February 2013 (c) Jos Repertory Theatre, used by permission

The Jos Repertory Theatre’s performance of Wale Ogunyemi’s Queen Amina of Zazzau, in Jos, February 2013 (c) Jos Repertory Theatre, used by permission

Wale Ogunyemi’s play Queen Amina of Zazzau in Abuja. There will be two performances a day, at 4pm and 7pm, on the 13th and 14th of November at the Abuja Sheraton. I love the Jos Repertory Theatre’s productions and I have actually seen them perform Queen Amina of Zazzau several years ago, so Abuja people should check it out. The tickets are N5,000 regular and N150,000 for a table for six. For reservations, please call 0703-246-0159 and 0905-365-2544 or call Eniola at 0909-287-3099. Tickets are available at Silverbird Galleria and at the gate. The production is supported by the Center for Arts Management, Nigeria.

But the primary reason for this post was to follow up on Noah Tsika’s recent review of the Netflicks distributed film Beasts of No Nation based on the novel of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, and a subsequent twitter conversation I had with playwright Africa Ukoh. Tsika’s review of Beasts of No Nation, a film which I have not yet seen [2 February 2016. Just saw it. Still trying to wrap my head around it. A review may follow], argues that the film fits into a “child soldier” movie genre that is often presented to largely Western audiences.

[…] the film evokes the type of Tarzanism by which Western cultural producers perpetually seek to gain artistic legitimacy, proffering a cinematic vision of reflexive violence (couched as inherently, ahistorically “African”) as well as an especially aggrandizing, extratextual portrait of an American male director who made a “risky,” malarial, downright Conradian trek into the darkness of the global South.

Tsika points out that the film, like the novel, is set in an unnamed African country, but is shot in Ghana (and…em…Brazil….) and the characters speak Twi:

That Twi goes unmentioned in the publicity surrounding Beasts is a measure of the filmmakers’ commitment to their gimmick—to the coy presentation of an ill-defined “Africa” as a screen on which spectators might project their assumptions.

Tsika also critiques Netflix, the distributor of the film, for bypassing distribution units most easily accessible in Africa.

Scholar Amatoritsero Ede, in a recent article in Research in African Literatures, has critiqued the original novel for similar reasons, claiming that it demonstrates a “self-anthropologizing impulse”:

Iweala’s work is a sweeping allegory of a war-torn continent with its retinue of child soldiers. Due to the absence of a specific geographical setting, the whole of Africa becomes a war zone and is symbolic of conflict—especially war at its most bestial, considering the ghoulish boy-narrator’s automatic, almost psychopathic killing instincts.

Ede points out that it is not the subject matter that is the problem. As I argued previously, we are faced with very real and brutal stories of war that affect very real people–most recently in Nigeria, the stories that have come out of the Boko Haram conflict. Instead, Ede critiques the language in which the story is told:

Beasts of No Nation replicates that African inarticulacy in Agu, who is given, instead of proper speech, “a violent babble of uncouth sounds” much like Conrad’s black characters in Heart of Darkness (Conrad 84). […] Nigeria alone has over 250 languages, apart from a universal Pidgin English spoken by the uneducated mass across indigenous language barriers. In such a context, Agu’s inarticulacy becomes symbolic of “a return to origins.” This is because it is not explained by plot or yoked to any important narrative insight more than to the fact that this boy-soldier is uneducated and even incapable of the simplest thought in clear pidgin, a language so universal that every child and most uneducated adults take refuge in it. Nor could Agu speak his own native tongue. Instead he descends into a Conradian incoherence, alleviated by a “gerunding”: “It is starting like this . . . I am opening my eyes and there is light all around me coming into the dark through hole in the roof, crossing like net above my body. Then I am feeling my body crunched up like one small mouse in the corner when the light is coming on” (1, emphasis added). All that, even though he says, “I am learning how to read very early in my life from my mother and my father” (24, emphasis added). And this child-soldier who sings, “Soldier Soldier / Kill Kill Kill. / That is how you live. / That is how you die” (31), in order to remind himself of his fate, motivate himself against remorse, does indeed seem to understand the difference between a verb and a gerund after all.

Thinking of Beasts of No Nation, especially after Africa Ukoh tweeted me a review so egregious I initially thought it was satire, reminded me of his play 54 Silhuettes, the premiere of which I saw performed in Jos in November 2013. The play was a critique of the very sort of one-dimensional Hollywood representations of Africa at war that Tsika implies Beasts of No Nation continues. In the play, a struggling Nigerian actor in Hollywood, Chimezie, faces a crisis of conscious over playing an African soldier to Hollywood specifications. I published a review of the premiere performance in my column in Weekly Trust on 23 November 2013. Because Trust has, for some reason, “beheaded” all of my archived articles, cutting off the first paragraph, I am slowly trying to archive them here on my blog, with their heads retrieved from my pre-edit file and pasted back on.

I thought that the conversation surrounding the “Hollywood” production of this Nigerian novel, was a good time to revisit Africa Ukoh’s play. Please find my original review after the premier copied below.

IMG_5171 (c) Carmen McCain

Premiere stage performance of Africa Ukoh’s play 54 Silhouettes skewers Hollywood

“I’m not really in the mood to do any raping today.” One of the best one-liners I’ve heard ends Africa Ukoh’s brilliant play 54 Silhouettes, a satire about Hollywood’s imagination of Africa. The Stratford East/30 Nigeria House prize-winning play was originally produced for radio by BBC after coming first runner up in BBC’s 2011 African Performance competition. The first stage performance by the African Renaissance Theatre, directed by the playwright Africa Ukoh, premiered on 16 November at the Jos Alliance Francaise.

The story revolves around a Nigerian actor Victor Chimezie (Promise Ebichi), who is trying to break into Hollywood. When his Nigerian agent Sonny Chuks (Williams Obasi) gets him a role as a lieutenant named “Tiger” in a film set in Africa, Sonny thinks he has made Chimezie’s career. Chimezie and the scriptwriter/director Larry Singer (Idris Sagir) hit it off in the beginning, as both turn out to be Wole Soyinka fans: Larry once directed Death and the King’s Horseman and Chimezie once acted the king’s horseman Elesin. In Soyinka’s play, a patronizing colonial district officer Pilkings denounces as savage the tradition of ritual suicide by the oba’s companion after an oba’s death, but in “saving” Elesin he contributes to the death of Elesin’s son Olunde, who takes his father’s place. Chimezie and Larry recite dialogue from the scene where Elesin tells Pilkings, “You have shattered the peace of the world forever. There is no sleep in the world tonight.”

This symbolic tribute to Soyinka’s play resonates throughout 54 Silhouettes: Chimezie, like Elesin, faces great temptation to betray his people for a good life, and the well-meaning Larry, like Pilkings, is so blinded by his prejudices that he undermines (through his writing) the cultures he tries to represent. For a man who directed Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Larry knows very little about Nigeria. In fact, he’s a hack. His film script is about an American journalist pursuing a ghost story in a “war-torn” Nigeria, somewhere in the Niger Delta. Larry manages to, as Chimezie points out, include “voodoo priests, a wrestling match with a lion, cannibalism, and half-naked dancing women” all in one film. The section we get to see performed features a warlord with a non-Nigerian name, played by an actor with a butchered “African” accent, who orders a child soldier kill a saintly Irish priest with lines like this: “You are an African. There is beastliness in your blood, and I shall unleash it.” Or “This is Africa. We are already in Hell.”

Chimezie grows more and more disturbed by the part he is being asked to perform and gradually makes enemies of most of his Hollywood contacts. Although Larry is smitten with Chimezie and seems to be open to suggestions, the swaggering cigarette-smoking “big-shot” producer Howard Flynn (played by the playwright and director himself Africa Ukoh) is irritated by Chimezie’s challenges to the script, telling him he knows “Africa is a big country.” He is also irritated that Chimezie does not seem “jubilant” enough at the news that Denzel Washington will star in the film. Flynn seasons his speech with racist slurs, calling Chimezie “Boy” and “Chimpanzee” and asking him if “you require jungle drums in order to express yourself.”

IMG_5150 (c) Carmen McCain

Sparks also fly between Chimezie and Kayode Adetoba (brilliantly played by Charles Etubiebi), the Brighton-born British-Nigerian actor whom everyone calls Tobi. He speaks with a South London accent, mispronounces Chimezie’s name just as Larry and Flynn do, and when he plays a warlord speaks with what internet critics call a “generic African accent.” When Chimezie protests, “That name is not from anywhere in Nigeria” and “That is not a Nigerian accent,” Flynn forces him to speak with the generic African accent too. When Tobi performs the hammy role in Larry’s script, asking Chimezie’s character what he is “insinuating,” Flynn asks “isn’t that too fluent?” Despite Flynn’s racist treatment—at one point saying “Down, Tobi” as if he were a dog—Tobi sides with the producer over his fellow actor from Nigeria. Tobi becomes increasingly incensed at Chimezie’s insistence on responsibility to “his people”—what Tobi calls “romantic idealism.” He tells Chimezie, “I was born in Brighton, I live in London. The closest I’ve ever been to Africa is in a plane flying over it.”

IMG_5141 (c) Carmen McCain

The tension also grows between Chimezie and his agent and friend Sonny Chuks, who has cashed in on a favour Flynn owes him to get Chimezie the role. When the two Nigerians get particularly passionate in their argument, they break into Igbo. Chimezie recites a proverb about the tortoise, “They say he is strong and wise, but when he sits for too long, he is seen as a stone. Who is to blame?” “I have a proverb for you,” Sonny counters, “Money, Make money.”

54 Silhouettes brilliantly skewers Hollywood representations of Africa in movies like Tears of the Sun or Sahara and even slyly weighs in on the casting of non-Nigerian “Hollywood” stars and British-born Nigerians who can’t get the accent right in films set in Nigeria, as in the recent film Half of a Yellow Sun. (See my critique of the casting here: first paragraph, rest of column.) Complementing the ethical questions at the heart of the play are a multitude of biting one-liners. The satirical dialogue reveals the subtle and not so subtle bigotry of the characters: “I make movies to make money, not to promote foreign relations,” Howard Flynn says. “The budget alone could feed a third world country,” Larry quips. “The only reason I kept this bizarre excuse of a name is because the sheer oddity of it gets me attention and makes me stand out,” Tobi seethes.

Of course, what looms over the play but is never spoken is the word “Nollywood,” and the absence of Nollywood here is perhaps the major hole in the play. While the first act pops with biting humour, in the second act, Chimezie enumerates in long monologues the invisibility of the African voice and his ethical problems with performing in the film. Here the play begins to drag a bit and seems repetitious—a flaw that could perhaps have been solved by looking to the new possibilities open to actors in Africa. The choice is not between suffering in anonymity, as Sonny puts it, or acting in a compromising Hollywood film. In a BBC interview with Ethiopian-American filmmaker Nnegest Likké about Africans in Hollywood, she emphasized the need to build an alternative African tradition, as if this was something that should be built within Hollywood. But while there is certainly a need to improve the chances of Africans and African-Americans in Hollywood, there is also a thriving alternate film tradition on the ground in Africa, from Accra to Lagos to Nairobi, which could be enriched by the passions and skills of actors like Chimezie.

IMG_5179 (c) Carmen McCain

Despite the perhaps false dichotomy presented here, the acting in the premiere stage performance of 54 Silhouettes was brilliant. I listened to the BBC radio performance online and, with a few exceptions, I thought that the character interpretation in the live performance was better, perhaps because the playwright Africa Ukoh was directing this production. The actor Idris Sagir who plays Larry Singer butchers his Hollywood character’s American (?) accent with a mixture of an American southern accent and some odd unplaceable accent full of “r’s.” But since so much of the politics of the play was about bad African accents by non-African performers, the (perhaps intentionally?) bad accent felt like poetic justice to me. The bad American accent like the caricatured Hollywood icons, and the over-the-top racism were all subversive gestures that mock and undermine Hollywood’s dominance, and the character of Chimezie becomes the ultimate deconstructor.

“I’m not really in the mood to do any raping today,” says Chimezie, effectively committing professional suicide. And in this moment, his resolve seems more like a satirical version of Elesin’s son Olunde in Death and the King’s Horseman, who killed himself so that tradition could live. What follows in my imagination is a “Part 2,” where Chimezie resurrects in Nollywood, moving beyond anxieties about Hollywood to tell stories his own way.

The play will be performed at the French Institut in Wuse 2, Abuja on December 5-6, and will be back in Jos on 7 December at a venue yet to be confirmed. Go see it.

Missing Kannywood

During the celebration of Kannywood at 20 (c) Sani Maikatanga

During the celebration of Kannywood at 20, Kano, December 2010 (c) Sani Maikatanga

There are many posts I have wanted to write, but I put them off because there is always something else I am supposed to be doing.  I am currently skipping over an important post I have been planning for a month, namely, the election and the euphoria of Buhari’s win (when people stood in line all day and all night to vote and partied on Twitter) and a series of photos I took in Lagos during the second election for House of Assembly members and governors. Hopefully I will get to that.

Today, though, I am missing Kannywood. Where I live now, in western Nigeria, I have made friends with a young Hausa girl in Junior Secondary 2. She comes to my house to visit me, and we talk in Hausa, she braids my hair and asks to see photos of Kannywood. I scroll through old albums. She wants to see photos of Adam A. Zango and Sadiq Sani Sadiq, who she calls “mijina.” I have so many folders ordered by month and day that I cannot quite remember where everything is, so I swoop in at random and pull things up, and usually it is something she wants to see. I think maybe on this blog, I should start posting random photos every week, if I don’t have anything else to write about.

So, here, today, I will post a few photos of the years I was in Kano and involved in Kannywood– it was equal parts glamor and exhaustion, occasionally terrifying for a shy me, at over-long bikis, on film sets, and industry meetings, workshops, and award ceremonies.  But more than anything, it was community. I felt like I had been adopted into a family, and I spent much of my time in Kano in studios and offices, hanging out, listening to gossip and political debates and jokes. I miss that. And those days in Kaduna, Zaria, Jos, on sets, smooshed five to a backseat in cars on the way to the next location, five ladies to a bed in hotels while one actress watches the Zombie Apocolypse on DSTV until 2am and another has long midnight calls, the times you sit around watching people saying their lines over and over again, the banter and the long conversations that happen behind the scenes, while waiting for the last scene to wrap.

Where I am now, people continuously shout “oyinbo” at me. It is nothing new. I grew up in Nigeria and I know that it is rarely malicious, often affectionate. But is alienating nevertheless. It reminds me that I am foreign, that I do not belong. In Kano, there was a familiarity, in my own small community that spilled over to the larger public once people began to recognize my face. I was not just a “baturiya.” I was “their” baturiya–a Baturiya Bahaushiya–a baturiya at home. Most of all I miss that. The ability to, if not to quite fit in, to belong, to be in a place where I was not just an alien but a “member” of a community who can straddle two worlds.

The last time I was in Kano was briefly in 2013. It was not the same as I remembered it. Homes left behind never are. Lives move on. Friends marry, move studios, leave film for other work. But from 2008 to 2011, this place was my community. These people, my home.

In the past couple of days, I have gotten phone calls from my Golden Goose crew, the studio I spent much of my time in the first few years in Kano. I thank these my friends for remembering me. Much love to them all.

Golden Goose Studio, 2008 (c) Nazir Ahmad Hausawa aka Ziriums

Golden Goose Studio, Kano, 2008 (c) Nazir Ahmad Hausawa aka Ziriums

Kannywood actress Fati Tage and me at the wedding of Binta Mohammed and Tahir I. Tahir in March 2009, Kano.

Dan Auta and me joking around on set of Likita, Zaria, May 2010.

On set Likita, Zaria, 2010

On set Likita, Baba Ari and Gatari, Zaria, May 2010

On set of Jidda, Kaduna, January 2010.

On set of Jidda, Kaduna, January 2010.

Golden Goose buddies at the wedding of editor, Sulaiman Abubakar MPEG, Mrch 2010.

Golden Goose buddies at the wedding of editor, Sulaiman Abubakar MPEG, March 2010.

With Kannywood peeps, BOB-TV, Abuja, 2009.

With Kannywood peeps, BOB-TV, Abuja, 2009.

Hanging out in the Sheraton parking lot, at BOB-TV, Abuja, March 2010.

Kannywood peeps hanging out in the Sheraton parking lot, at BOB-TV, Abuja, March 2010.

On set of Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya, 2009.

On set of Ibro Ya Auri Baturiya, Kano/Jigawa, 2009.


On set, Mutallab, directed by Aminu Saira, written and produced by Nasir Gwangwazo, Kaduna, August 2010.

Ali Nuhu and me on set Mutallab, August 2010.

The last day of the Mutallab shoot, Kaduna, August 2010.

The last day of the Mutallab shoot, Kaduna, August 2010.

Mirror selfie on set Janni-Janni, Kaduna, August 2010.

Mirror selfie on set Janni-Janni, Kaduna, August 2010.

On set of an AGM Bashir film, Kano, 2010.

On set of an AGM Bashir film, Kano, 2010.

On set of the Hajiya Aisha Halilu film Armala, April 2011

On set of Abbas Sadiq film, Jos, 2012.

On set of Abbas Sadiq film, Jos, 2012.

Sai na dawo.

Interview with Award-winning filmmaker Kenneth Gyang at the African Studies Association Conference, 2014

poster courtesy of Shadow and Act

At the African Studies Association conference in Indianapolis last November (2014), Nollywood scholar Connor Ryan asked me if I’d like to collaborate with him on an interview with filmmaker Kenneth Gyang, one of the founders of Cinema Kpatakpata. Kenneth’s film Confusion Na Wa won the awards for Best film and Best Nigerian film at the 9th Africa Movie Academy Awards in 2013. (It was nominated for four)

Kenneth is a friend, whom I have known since the set of his Blood and Henna in 2011, which was also nominated for six AMAA Awards (and eventually won Best Costume Design).


Kenneth Gyang on the set of his film Blood and Henna in Kaduna, November 5, 2011. (c) Carmen McCain


At the time we interviewed him (directly before the screening), I had not yet seen Confusion Na Wa! and I really wish I had, as I would have had even more questions. It is a brilliant film that, within a fractured tragi-comic plot, captures well the kinds of daily life and conversations Nigerians have. I need to see it one more time before I write a review.

In the meantime, if you are in Nigeria, Confusion Na Wa is currently back in cinemas via Filmhouse Cinemas, which has locations in Kano, Lagos, Ibadan Calabar, Port Harcourt, and Asaba. If you are in Kano, it is playing now at 10:10am Friday through Thursday. Go see it. If you are in the U.S., Kenneth Gyang has been on a tour, and I believe Confusion Na Wa will be screening at the University of Georgia on February 28, this Saturday, although I wasn’t able to find it on the UGA calender.

I didn’t project my questions very well in the video interview (only Kenneth was mic-ed), so some of my contributions got cut in the editing, but I loved Connor’s questions (he wrote one of the first and probably one of the best reviews of the film when it first came out in 2013) and Kenneth’s answers. Here is a link to some of Kenneth’s transcribed answers, and below is the video of the interview. Enjoy.